Women In Trade: What is a Construction Project Manager?

Interview by Laura Hillier, BWV Reporter

As part of Bristol Women’s Voice series on women in the trades, I interviewed Joelle Ivett about her role at a company that specialises in “built environment consultancy”. The company works with aspects of the environment built by humans, rather than features occurring in the natural world. It is a leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets, providing design, consultancy, engineering, and project management services.

Joelle is currently working as a senior project manager in the aviation sector, on a project developing and transforming Manchester airport. This is one of the biggest construction projects in the UK at the moment, valued at £1bn over 10 years. Specifically, she is working on the elements of the project relating to building the airport’s new piers.

So what’s a typical day for a project manager?

The role is really varied because it depends so much on the project that is currently being worked. Joelle is spending much of her time at the moment working with designers and consultants, ensuring that the client’s key milestones are being met by the contractors, planning how the building stage is going to go, and keeping an eye on the costs of the project.

Why do construction project management?

Joelle points out that the role gives you the chance to make a genuine impact on the built environment, and influence the structures that people see and live around every single day. Joelle was always interested in the built environment due to the “iconic nature of the buildings that you know”. A big appeal of the role was the ability to leave some kind of “tangible legacy” and have an impact with the work that she does. Being able to influence the design of the Manchester Airport development is huge, with the effects seen and experienced by millions of people each year.

Furthermore, the career prospects following completing the degree are extremely promising. As Joelle put it, “if you have a genuine interest in construction project management and you have a desire for it, it WILL give you the career”. The role is also quite well paid, and the career can take you to work all over the world – “there’s always going to be things to build!”. Furthermore, many companies are keen to invest in you and help you achieve additional qualifications, meaning there’s lots of room for professional development.

How do you get into it?

It was hard for Joelle to know how to get into it as a teenager, even though she knew it was what she wanted to do. She spoke to some others that were already working in the field, and found that there is a wealth of different roles in the built environment field. At 17, Joelle took the initiative to organise her own placement with a local company, and started volunteering 1 day a week. She shadowed the architect and other people at the company, and quickly realised that the leadership role appealed to her. Next, she enrolled for a construction project management degree, worked extremely hard, and graduated at the top of her class.

You’ll need a degree to get onto a graduate scheme, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in construction project management. Joelle explains that the current skills shortage in the field means that many employers are willing to accept candidates with other degrees, as long as they have the relevant transferable skills – so don’t be put off! You might end up doing a Master’s level conversion course to ensure that you’re up to speed with the right knowledge and skills to do the job.

Any advice for women wanting to get into construction project management?

The field is currently very male-dominated but there is plenty of room for women to be extremely successful in these roles. Joelle spent a lot of time with other women in the organisation that she looks up to and found that different women handle the challenges of the male-dominated environment differently. She advises that you should find a way of handling the environment that feels the most authentic for you, and ultimately be yourself. Equality – not only regarding gender, but also concerning other issues such as race and sexuality – is being talked about much more in the construction industry recently, meaning there is gradually a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Joelle also gave the following three tips for women interested in the career:

Work hard: This is true for any profession, but particularly for male-dominated industries such as construction, as there is stronger pressure to prove yourself and your skills.
Be brave: The construction industry is heavily client-facing, and can at times be a high-conflict environment.
Be open-minded: You can end up going down a completely different route than the one you originally intended if you seize opportunities as they come. One huge advantage of the role is that you often end up working for different clients and in different industries, which gives you the chance to try loads of new things.





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